Notebook, 1993-


Natural Organic Pigments

Even among the organic colors, some pigments can be found in antiquity that once were and, in some cases, still are of great importance. The materials were of animal or vegetable origin and were used mainly for dyeing. Only in rare instances could they be used directly for painting. Often they had to be made into lakes first, as mentioned above.

The juice of certain marine mollusks [Purpura and Murex sp.] and the extract of cochineal insects produced red solutions in water that could at best be used for tinting. various kinds of berries and colored woods yielded decorations that had to be precipitated onto white pigments. many of the extracted colored juices provided very weak tints and could be used only for delicate coloring. Iris green, made from the iris, and sap green from the buckthorn were passable, but green lake, made from coffee, and acacia yellow from acacia flowers were just as delicate as dyes made from heather or fern. One transparent color was painstakingly [p. 53] made from inner organs of ordinarily cockchafers [Melolontha vulgaris] and contained enough natural agglutinate to be used without additional medium. Blood quickly changes its color and occasionally when it was used its significance was predominantly mystical or symbolic. Similarly, the strikingly full hues made from blackberries, beetroot, elderberries, and others soon lose their original colors through oxidation.

Unfortunately, one magnificent, almost irreplaceable organic color of animal origin is now only of historic value and has been so since 1921--Indian yellow, made from urine of Indian cows. Its peculiarly bright yellow color, its light-fastness, and its glazing qualities have never been achieved by any synthetic substitute.

Calcined bones or charcoal provided deep black pigments or black with a brown cast. Most frequent in old wall paintings is a charcoal black made from dried vines, the ancient Atramentum.. Various kinds of soot have always been available as cheap black pigments. [pp. 53-54]

[Wehlte, Kurt. The Materials and Techniques of Painting. Translated by Ursus Dix. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1975.]



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